St Martin, Soldier and Conscientious Objector

Statue of Saint Martin cutting his cloak in two, above the gate of Höchst CastleToday, on both sides of the Atlantic, we mark 11.11.11, Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day in the USA), and also, as Shane Claiborne reminds us, the feast of St Martin of Tours (316-397). Claiborne marks the day by sharing the testimony of a modern equivalent of Martin, a soldier who became a Christian and chose not to fight any more. He writes:

As the son of a Vietnam veteran who died when I was 9, I can’t imagine a better way to honor the soldiers and veterans today than by sharing Logan’s testimony …

The testimony ends:

Let us follow this subversive centurion in the way of Jesus, our ultimate Commander and the last, best hope for human kind. There is an entire guild of contemporary centurions marching to the beat of a different drummer, a Prince that grants peace nothing like that of Rome. War has been conquered, it is over, if we want it…

Meanwhile Jim West quotes Erasmus, from his book Against War – I have updated the English:

Where is the kingdom of the devil, if it is not in war? Why do we draw Christ into war, when a brothel suits him more than war? St Paul says that it is wrong for there to be any disagreement between Christian people so great that they would need a judge to mediate between them. What if he were to come and see us now, making war all round the world for minor and trivial reasons, fighting more cruelly than any heathen or barbarous people?

So today, let us remember those who have lost life or limb fighting other people’s battles, often without caring or even knowing what cause they are fighting for. But let us also carefully avoid glorifying war or presenting it as God’s will. And above all keep out of the trap of expecting God to be fighting on your side and against your enemies. If you are not sure why this is important, read, as conveniently posted at Experimental Theology, Mark Twain’s short story The War Prayer.

Lance Wallnau on Occupy Wall Street #OWS

Lance WallnauLance Wallnau has just released a new video (21 minutes) on the front page of his website, entitled Seize This Moment in Time. In this video he touches on the Occupy Wall Street situation, while also sketching and referring to his Seven Mountains picture. Here is my transcript (slightly tidied up) of the relevant part of the video (starting at 18:13):

This is the reason why when I started looking at social transformation, and I became frankly fatigued with the realisation that most believers still don’t have a handle on how it happens. Well, you just take a look at what’s going on with the Occupy Wall Street situation. What you have is you have the government creating policies that help to produce a problem in the mortgage market. You have them doing it and then you’ve got the business mountain over here and the banking and the Wall Street deal over here. These business guys fund the politicians. The politicians are helping make these people money.

You know, the people in the streets are actually picking up with a sense of outrage that there is an element of dysfunctional self-interest going on. Where? In the high places of these systems that it’s in a sense taking the rest of the country for a ride it should not be on, over a precipice, a financial collapse.

But we that are the believers have to be able to pray for government and pray for business and start to raise up champions in these areas who can begin to influence these systems, because over here in the church realm, if you’re going to be in the church, in the religion compartment over here, and you do not raise up believers that are in proximity to the tops of these systems, then you wrap these systems up and you give them to the enemy. This is what I have been saying for years.

But never before have I seen so conspicuously the power of media. Now look at this. Government, politicians that are even capitalising on economic unrest, media which is capitalising on the opportunity to get viewership over the phenomena, and economics which is the issue of where our whole system is going – where those three come together, government, media and business, you have the tipping point of the entire dialogue going on in our country right now. Media has the spin control, economic engines are the issue, and government is the legislating player that is trying to capitalise on it.

I say it is time more than ever for believers to get together here and start invading all seven [mountains]. I say take all seven into a new realm, because we are in those mountains, it is time to mobilise and go up those mountains.

Is this “dominionism”? Well, it is certainly better than when “you wrap these systems up and you give them to the enemy”. His final point here is an important one: as Christians we are already in the mountains, because we are in the world. God has sent us into the world, and we shouldn’t seek to be taken out of it, but to be protected in it (John 17:15,18). So it cannot be wrong for us to seek to succeed, to climb to the top, on whichever mountain God has placed us on.

Packer: "A totally impassive God would be a horror"

J.I. PackerFollowing the death of John Stott, J.I. Packer is surely now the unchallenged elder statesman of Anglican* evangelicalism. He is a special hero among the “Reformed” Calvinists, whether Anglican or not. But is he in fact a Calvinist? Or is he more an Open Theist?

According to traditional Christian theology, one of the key characteristics of God is that he is “impassible”, i.e. he “does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being”. This view has its origin more in Neo-Platonism that in biblical teaching, but came to dominate Christian thinking through the influence of Augustine. The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin took on this idea, and it has become enshrined in “Reformed” theology through doctrinal statements such as the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562) and the Westminster Confession (1646), which both describe God as “without body, parts, or passions”.

Most of today’s “Reformed” Calvinists would follow their heroes and their confessions and teach that God is impassible. But in recent years many other theologians, evangelicals among them, have challenged this doctrine. Some of those making this challenge are associated with Open Theism, a teaching which is anathema to Calvinists.

It is in this context that Roger Olson has had some interesting things to say about Packer.

A few days ago Olson quoted Packer as writing that “Arminianism is an intellectual sin”, and so writing off Olson, and myself, as sinners. Ironically Packer justifies his position by quoting the Arminian Charles Wesley. But this is from something which Packer wrote in about 1958, and so may not represent his current views.

Today Olson shows he bears no grudge for being called a sinner by posting And now…kudos to J. I. Packer for this brilliant article, about a 1986 article in Christianity Today. It is this article which is relevant to the impassibility debate, because in it Packer seems to reject this doctrine, at least in its classical form. Olson quotes him:

Let us be clear: A totally impassive God would be a horror, and not the God of Calvary at all.  He might belong in Islam; he has no place in Christianity.  If, therefore, we can learn to think of the chosenness of God’s grief and pain as the essence of his impassibility, so-called, we will do well.

In other words, Packer agrees with the biblical text that God suffers grief and pain, and tries to turn the definition of “impassibility” on it head. In doing so he goes not only against Islam but also against the Westminster Confession, and against the Thirty-Nine Articles of his own orthodox Anglicanism. Olson comments,

In fact, I believe IF that article were to be published today WITHOUT the author’s identity attached, many conservative evangelicals would assume it was written by an open theist or a “leftwing evangelical” and attack it as dangerous.

Personally, I do not see how the article’s central thrust can be reconciled with classical Calvinism. … Classical Calvinism is closely tied to classical theism.  It certainly does not believe that God can change his mind or “make new decisions as he reacts to human doings.”

So what can we conclude? Is Packer’s thinking inconsistent? I suspect not in quite the same way that Olson claims. Clearly the mature Packer of 1986 is not the same as the young Packer of 1958. But even while misrepresenting Arminianism in 1958 he could agree with the Arminian Wesley that a key effect of God’s grace is “my heart was free”. And by 1986 his position seems to have embraced much more freedom and openness than classical Calvinism would seem to allow.

Packer is a hero of “Reformed” Calvinists worldwide. No doubt he would still reject with horror any suggestion that he might be an Arminian or an Open Theist. But what he has written seems to put his current position closer to Arminianism and Open Theism than to Calvinism. It is also further from Neo-Platonism and closer to biblical Christianity.

* Packer is apparently still an Anglican, despite leaving the official Anglican Church of Canada in 2008. The church where he is Honorary Assistant Minister, now known as St John’s Vancouver Anglican Church and meeting at a new location, states that “We remain in communion with the greater part of the worldwide Anglican Communion through the auspices of the Anglican Network in Canada.”

Be In The 1% Who Get God’s Grace

Morgan Guyton and familyMorgan Guyton writes at Red Letter Christians I Want To Be In The 1% Who Get God’s Grace.

What does he mean? Is he making some Calvinist point, that only 1% of people benefit from God’s prevenient and irresistible saving grace, and that the 99% are predestined to eternal torment? There are plenty of preachers around who would agree with that, at least if pushed. But I don’t think Morgan Guyton is one of them – he is a United Methodist pastor, and so unlikely to be a Calvinist.

No, by “get God’s grace” Guyton doesn’t mean “receive and benefit from God’s grace”. He is using “get” in a different colloquial sense and means “understand God’s grace”. And on that point I can agree with him. From my experience, barely 1% even of professing Christians come near to understanding this grace. But, I am glad to say, God is gracious enough that he gives his grace even to those who don’t understand it.

And his grace is not just that we can be saved from our past sins but must now work hard at being godly. Louie Giglio, in his DVD series Grace: The One & Only, has called this “half the gospel”, but it is all of what is preached in many churches – a gospel focused on the death of Jesus but forgetting his resurrection, a gospel framed by justification but ignoring justice, a gospel of individual salvation with no mention of the Kingdom. No, God’s grace is far more than that: it is the offer of his resurrection power enabling us to live lives which please him, starting now and continuing into eternity.

We are the 99%Morgan Guyton is of course alluding in his post to the “We are the 99%” slogan of the Occupy protesters. But he notes that both these protesters and their “anti-99%” opponents are trying to justify themselves:

One side justifies themselves by talking about how hard they work (which means that other people who aren’t as hard-working should stop whining). The other side justifies themselves by talking about how hard their lives has been or how well they sympathize with people who have hard lives (which means that people who lack sympathy should recognize their moral inferiority). Both forms of self-justification cause us to be presumptuous, judgmental people who either call all rich people greedy or all poor people lazy … Self-justification is the basis for most hatred in our society …

But, Guyton argues, instead of being in this 99% of self-justifiers, we need to be among “The 1% of people who understand God’s grace to be the foundation of their being”. Then,

let’s be grateful for all that God has given us and use it as responsibly as we can, so that we can be extravagantly generous in how we share it with other people. Then maybe we’ll get to be part of the 1% who actually experience the joy of living under God’s grace, which is a joy I hope to experience one day when I’m finally free of my poisonous self-justification.

To this I would only add that, by God’s grace and to the extent that we live in Christ, Guyton and all of us are already “free of [our] poisonous self-justification” and indeed of all our sinful attitudes. We just need to live in that freedom and joy in the power of the risen Jesus.

Did God kill Jesus? Olson and Caiaphas vs. Piper

One of my first major posts on this blog, in June 2006, tackled the controversial question Did God kill Jesus? See also the post which led up to this, “The Father killed the Son”: the offence of the Gospel?, and the follow-up Did God kill Jesus: should I post like this?

Today Roger Olson is asking exactly the same question, Did God kill Jesus? He writes that

Recently a leading evangelical pastor and author has declared publicly that “God killed Jesus”–meaning, I suppose, the Father killed Jesus.  That’s his way (I assume) of emphasizing the penal substitution theory of the atonement.

Personally, I think some “friends of penal substitution” are its worst enemies.

John PiperA little Google research reveals that the pastor and author that Olson refers to is none other than John Piper, who in a sermon this Sunday said, with reference to John 11:50,

In the mind of Caiaphas, the substitution was this: We kill Jesus so the Romans won’t kill us. We substitute Jesus for ourselves. In the mind of God, the substitution was this: I will kill my Son so I don’t have to kill you. God substitutes Jesus for his enemies.

God Killed Jesus?

I know it sounds harsh to speak of God killing Jesus. Killing so easily connotes sinning and callous cruelty. God never sins. And he is never callous. The reason I say that God killed his own Son is because Isaiah 53 uses this kind of language. Verse 4: “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God.” God smote him. Verse 6: “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Verse 10: “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” God smote him. God crushed him.

My first response to this is an exegetical one. If we look at Isaiah 53:4-5, in Piper’s preferred English Standard Version, we read three propositions about the Suffering Servant separated by other material, which we can summarise as follows: “Surely A; yet we esteemed B. But C”. In other words, A is certainly true, and B is our own human estimation of the situation, which should be rejected in favour of C. That is to say, B is a false proposition, or at least inadequate one, according to the text of Isaiah itself. And what is proposition B? That the Servant was “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted”. Thus the verse Piper quotes to prove that God smote Jesus in fact says the opposite. It is redundant to note that the Hebrew verb translated “smitten”, although sometimes used in the context of homicide, does not actually mean “killed”, but only “hit” or “beaten”.

Meanwhile, when the apostle John (11:51) writes that these words of the High Priest were a prophecy, Piper dares to declare that Caiaphas was speaking his own mind, not the mind of God, which Piper claims to know better the prophet does!

Olson, eirenic as always, declines to name Piper. But he makes a strong case for a proper understanding of penal substitutionary atonement. He agrees with the prophetic words of Caiaphas rather than with Piper’s speculation:

Men [gender inclusive, surely?] committed the violence against Jesus, not God the Father, and the actual suffering of the atonement was the rejection Jesus suffered by the Father.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the moment of atonement.  God did not kill Jesus (at least in my version of penal substitution); people did.  The Father did not inflict punishment on the unwilling, innocent Son as his victim; the Son volunteered to suffer the Father’s wrath.  The Father’s wrath was not physical violence; it was the rupture within the Godhead suffered by both the Son and the Father (in different ways).  The atonement was that he (Jesus), who knew no sin, became sin for us…., with the result that the Father had to turn away and forsake him.  The penalty for sin is spiritual death; separation from God, not physical death.

This presentation of penal substitutionary atonement, with the Son suffering as a volunteer, avoids any suggestion of the split in the Trinity which is implied by Piper’s version. It refutes Steve Chalke’s accusation of “cosmic child abuse”. The focus is no longer on the Father’s wrath but on his love. This seems similar to J.I. Packer’s view of the atonement as “planned by the holy Three in their eternal solidarity of mutual love”. It is also compatible with the Christus Victor model of the atonement, differing from it in perspective more than in content. Most importantly, it is far more biblical than Piper’s caricature.

The only major negative point I would make about Olson’s critique of Piper’s position is that Olson follows Piper in focusing too much on personal sin and justification, on what Scot McKnight calls the “soterian gospel”. Thus Olson’s gospel seems a little unbalanced in the way that I described in my post this morning Which Gospel? Justice or Justification? Olson doesn’t seem to have commented on McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel . I would be interested to see his response.

Which Gospel? Justice or Justification?

Scot McKnightScot McKnight posts today on The Three “J’s” in the Gospel Debate, and by doing so opens up in interesting ways this debate about what the gospel is and how we should understand it. This debate is fundamental to the Christian faith, because, in McKnight’s words,

The gospel is at the heart today of every major theological debate, and it spills over into one ecclesiastical debate after another.

For McKnight the key to the debate is how to frame the gospel. He notes that “some people frame the gospel through the category of justice“, and others “through the category of justification“. The latter group, especially those who call themselves “Reformed”, tend to reject as “liberals” the former, who tend towards political activism. The latter often reject the former as “fundamentalists”. McKnight responds to both groups:

The gospel, I contend, is not properly framed as injustice becoming justice (though clearly this happens) or as the unjust becoming just/justified (though clearly this happens too). And the debate between these two folks proves an inability to convince one leads to the other compellingly. There’s a better way.  Instead…

This is where McKnight brings in his third J. He writes that “some people frame the gospel through the category of Jesus“, and for his discussion of this framing he links to his own recent book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited . He concludes:

There are three J’s in the gospel debate. The right J is Jesus.

If you preach Jesus as the gospel you will get both justification and justice.
If you preach justification you may get Jesus (but I see only some of Jesus and not the whole of Jesus) and you may get some justice (I’m skeptical on this one).
If you preach justice you may get some justification (but I’m skeptical on enough justice gospelers ever getting to justification) and you get Jesus, but again only some of Jesus (often only his teachings, his life, and his life as an example).

If you preach the Jesus of Paul’s gospel (1 Cor 15) or the apostolic sermons in Acts or the gospel of the Gospels, you get all of Jesus and all of Jesus creates both justice and justification.

As for me and my house, we take the third J.

And so will I. Jesus comes first. Following him leads to personal justification and also to action for justice. But both have to spring from a relationship with him and follow the path on which he leads.

Do we really need a Charismatic Reformation?

J. Lee GradyScot McKnight reposts an article by J. Lee Grady, in Charisma News, It’s (Past) Time for a Charismatic Reformation. As the article is in honour of Reformation Day tomorrow, Grady offers a set of theses, not 95 like Luther’s (which McKnight also posted today) but a mere 15. These theses (don’t try to say that too quickly!) are directed at today’s charismatic church, which, he claims, needs a new Reformation. He writes:

I am no Luther, but I’ve grown increasingly aware that the so-called “Spirit-filled” church of today struggles with many of the same things the Catholic church faced in the 1500s. We don’t have “indulgences”—we have telethons. We don’t have popes—we have super-apostles. We don’t support an untouchable priesthood—we throw our money at celebrity evangelists who own fleets of private jets.

Well, Grady certainly has some hard things to say. But who is he saying them to? Is he perhaps attacking a straw man? I won’t go through all his theses, but to respond to some of them:

  1. Which charismatics really treat the Holy Spirit as “an “it” … a blob, a force, or an innate power”? Maybe some people do try to manipulate him, but are they really charismatics?
  2. Which charismatics have dramatic experiences but do not test them against Scripture? But while it is true that “Visions, dreams, prophecies and encounters with angels must be in line with Scripture”, we must be careful not to reject ones that don’t accord with our preconceived interpretations of Scripture. And if the test here is supposed to be that the church mustn’t do anything not explicitly described in the Bible, then that rules out most of the things that ANY church does.
  3. Who really blames everything on demons? Maybe some blame too much on them, but overstating one’s case does not help such theses to be accepted.
  4. Does anyone really believe that we can win spiritual battles just by shouting at demons? But surely it can be a legitimate part of the persevering prayer which is needed.

Now I can in general agree with the rest of the 15 theses. But I still wonder if the abuses that Grady points out are genuine or widespread. Of course where these abuses are found they need to be stopped. But the problem with Grady’s article is that it suggests that the charismatic church is in a far worse state than it really is. Thus he plays into the hands of its enemies, who can easily misunderstand Grady as suggesting that these abuses are characteristic of the charismatic movement as a whole.

However, I can entirely agree with Grady’s final thesis:

15. Let’s make the main thing the main thing. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s anointing is to empower us to reach others. We are at a crossroads today: Either we continue off-course, entertained by our charismatic sideshows, or we throw ourselves into evangelism, church planting, missions, discipleship, and compassionate ministry that helps the poor and fights injustice. Churches that embrace this New Reformation will focus on God’s priorities.

Yes, this kind of charismatic Reformation is what we need today.

Peter Enns Unpacks Theological Belligerence

Peter EnnsIn a post Fear Leads to Anger: Unpacking Theological Belligerence Peter Enns brilliantly explores the roots of why many Christians are so quick to attack their brothers and sisters in Christ over doctrinal differences, which on further investigation often turn out to be illusory or trivial. He writes:

When I see someone who:

seeks theological conflict with fellow Christians,

or is quick to turn the temperature up at the slightest provocation,

or presumes to be right at every turn and has has an excessive need to display it,

I know I am dealing with a deeply fearful person.

Sadly there are far too many fearful people like this on the blogosphere.

And not only there, as Enns knows personally. In 2008 he was effectively fired from Westminster Theological Seminary because of the controversy over his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. He has also recently ceased to be a Senior Fellow with the Biologos Foundation (confirmed by his own edit of his Wikipedia biography on 19th September 2011, although curiously he is still listed as a Senior Fellow at the Biologos website), and one blogger has reported his departure as follows:

What both Enns and Karl Giberson (also recently departed) had in common was their repudiation of the physical existence of Adam and Eve—something that angered the evangelicals, who desperately want to save that story to ensure that Jesus didn’t die for a mere metaphor.  I would guess that both Enns and Giberson were shown the door because of this issue …

Well, that may be pure speculation, but if anything like true it would suggest that more deeply fearful people have turned on Enns.

So all credit to Peter Enns that he has not responded in anger or even in self-justification against the people who have had him fired, at least once and perhaps twice.

How much power does Satan have in the world?

I was rather surprised by a reaction I received to my post Lance Wallnau’s Apocalyptic Vision of the Kingdom. Rod of Alexandria, who usually posts at Political Jesus, chose Joel Watts’ blog Unsettled Christianity for his post, addressed to me, Thanks, Peter! More Evidence Dominionists Reject Christus Victor.

Rod of AlexandriaIn this post Rod looks at an issue which was not at all in focus in Lance Wallnau’s video or in my post about it, and jumps to an unjustified conclusion about Wallnau’s view of the Atonement. He then compounds his error by generalising this view to “Dominionists”, that extremely ill-defined group who, if Wallnau is to be included, must include anyone who accepts that some Christians should be involved in politics. I wrote more about this in comments on Rod’s post.

My main point here is rather different. It springs from what Rod wrote in his post and his own comments on it. In the post he expounds his own Christus Victor view of the Atonement. He writes that in this model

The Devil is defeated, he has no ground to stand on … Satan is defeated and is stuck here, with only the ability to lie. … Satan is in retreat—this is the message of hope of CV atonement; he cannot hide, he has been exposed.

I would totally agree, although I am not as committed to a specific model of the Atonement as Rod seems to be. And I am almost sure that Lance Wallnau would agree. Although I summarised part of his teaching as “Satan taking his last stand on earth”, I did not mean to suggest that Satan has firm ground on earth on which to take this stand.

But Rod claims that Wallnau’s “views of Satan … contradict the claims of Christus Victor”. When I objected he responded by linking, indirectly, to a YouTube video of Wallnau saying something like “Satan Hand Picks Our Government Leaders”:

Here are some of Wallnau’s actual words in this video (length 2:34):

Satan determines which ones he is going to get the most out of and promotes them to the top (1:10). … And the false prophets and counterfeit priesthood of Satan isn’t necessarily wearing clerical robes. They’re dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases, but they are his priests in many cases, because they were hand picked for that assignment at the top of the mind moulders, because he gives it to whom he wills (1:53).

“Right Wing Watch” who posted this seem to expect viewers to be shocked by it. But to me it looks as if Wallnau is hinting at much the same as the Occupy protesters, attributing the ills of our society to a few people “dressed in suits and they have Gucci briefcases”.

Rod seriously misunderstands Wallnau here:

Wallnau also believes Satan has the power to determine who is in power: … he totally is anti-everything Christus Victor, if not a dominionist. No CV affirming Christian believes the Devil has that sort of power.

But Wallnau says nothing about “power to determine” anything at all. Yes, he uses the word “determines”, but in the context he is clearly using it in the sense “decides, chooses”. He clarifies this later with “hand picked”. In other words, he is teaching that Satan chooses which of his followers, his “priests”, are fit for promotion to the top of one of the “seven mountains”, of which, we must remember, government is only one.

Rod clarifies his objection to this teaching of Wallnau by denying that Satan has “the power of election, to choose who is in control of the world”. But he accepts that Satan has “the ability to lie”, and this is the only power that the evil one needs to put his chosen people on the mountain tops – if his followers are in the majority, or even if they are a minority but the others keep out of politics or retreat into monasteries. This is because Satan, the great deceiver, is also the great persuader. He only needs to get a few key people behind him to persuade those who pull the strings of power in our world, or even a whole electorate, to choose his candidates for the highest offices. By the way, here I don’t want to imply that any specific office holders, or potential ones, are Satan’s candidates.

To support his claim that Satan’s power is limited, Rod quotes Hebrews 2:14, in an anonymous version which reads, in part,

so that through death [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.

This reads rather differently in NIV:

so that by his death [Jesus] might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.

Hebrews 2:14 (NIV)

The Greek verb katargeo, rendered “destroy” in Rod’s version, is probably better understood as “make powerless”, hence NIV’s “break the power”. But if it does mean “destroy”, it is clear from other Bible passages that this destruction was not already accomplished when Jesus died and rose again. The cross may have made Satan’s final annihilation inevitable, but it is apparently only at the very end that it will actually happen, when he is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10).

Meanwhile, as the apostles specifically teach and as I commented on Rod’s post, Satan is alive and active in the world, in our current “church age” after the Resurrection and Pentecost:

Peter: Satan can fill apparent Christians’ hearts (Acts 5:3);

Paul: Satan can scheme and might outwit Christians (2 Corinthians 2:11);

Paul: Satan can block Christians’ way (1 Thessalonians 2:18);

Peter: The devil prowls around and might devour Christians (1 Peter 5:8);

John: The evil one controls the world (1 John 5:19).

Now Rod is correct that Satan has

a power to deceive and over the lives who believe his lies, but nothing more.

But he doesn’t need anything more to exercise his control over the world.

However, the situation is not quite as bleak as I have painted it, because we Christians are in the world. The apostle John writes to us that

the whole world is under the control of the evil one

1 John 5:19 (NIV)

but also that

the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

Indeed Satan has no power over us, because he can only tell lies and we know the truth. We need to recognise his lies, but we have no reason to be afraid of him. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can proclaim this truth, refute Satan’s lies, and expose his deception. But we can’t do this by hiding in holes in fear. Instead, like Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1 Samuel 14:1-23, we need to boldly climb the mountain, confront the enemy, and take back the world for God.

Is this “dominionism”? Maybe. But surely it is better than letting Satan rule the world through his chosen candidates.

#Occupy Wall St #OWS, or be a Hide-Behind-Wall Saint?

At Red Letter Christians Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes an interesting response to Occupy Wall Street and the worldwide Occupy movements which have grown up in response: Waiting For St. Benedict: Where Does Occupy Wall Street Go From Here? But I cannot agree with Jonathan’s apparent conclusions. I can agree with him that

The world as we know it is coming to an end. We’re all aching for the world-to-come.

But the question is how to get there. …

The Occupy Wall Street protesters may indeed not know how to get to where they want to be – or even exactly where it is they want to be, but on that issue see this great cartoon (thanks to Sam Norton for the link):

The Silent MajorityBut I’m sure they don’t want to go where Jonathan seems to think they should go:

Early in the 6th century, when the Roman Empire faced attacks from without and discontent from within, there came a point when most people knew that things had to change but no one was certain what would come next. About that time, a middle-class young Italian named Benedict left his home in Nursia to go to school in Rome only to find that the Empire which had been centered there was almost completely gone. … Benedict went to a cave, built himself a prayer cell, and so enrolled in the university of the world-to-come. …

The power of Benedict’s Rule was this: in a world that was falling apart, it gave structure to small communities of faith that could experiment in a new kind of community. It did not aim to restore Rome to its former glory or even to reform the church. The Rule simply offered people a way to live a vision of life together rooted in service, humility, and love. Throughout the Dark Ages, the Rule guided communities that existed as points of light in a sea of dark despair.

Yes, “Saint” Benedict’s Rule and the monasteries which sprang from it may have saved some of the treasures of ancient civilisation and provided part of the basis for its Renaissance rebuilding. Meanwhile they became the rich oppressors of the late Middle Ages, which had to be overthrown through a protest movement called the Reformation. This slow process of recovery followed many centuries of the chaos of the “Dark Ages”, and, to quote Tolkien, “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost”.

Wouldn’t it have been better if a talented man like Benedict (c.480–547), instead of retreating into monasticism, had stayed in Rome, like his contemporary Boethius (c. 480–524), to work hard at preserving and renewing its failing civilisation? Boethius, who has been called “the last of the Romans”, lost his life because of his political involvement, and within a generation Rome was devastated and largely abandoned. Benedict kept himself safely out of the way and died peacefully in old age. Could he have prevented the fall of Rome? Probably not, single-handed, but he could have tried.

Our western civilisation is not yet as far gone as the western Roman empire in the early 6th century. It is not yet ruled by foreigners who have seized power by force. It is not yet too far gone to be saved and for its wrongs to be righted. But if Christians, who may well have the best perspective on its rights and wrongs and the best ideas on how to save it, don’t play their part, the future is bleak. Our civilisation looks likely to be torn apart, as Rome was, by those with financial and military might but often lacking goodwill and long term vision.

So, I would plead with my fellow Christians, don’t be thinking at the moment how to retreat into personal sanctity in places of safety, behind walls or in mountain hideaways. Yes, there is a place for Christian community, “a way to live a vision of life together rooted in service, humility, and love”, but it is not in isolation from the world like Benedict’s monasteries. Rather, as Christians we need to occupy our neighbourhoods, if not in the literal way of Occupy Wall Street, at least by being lights of Christian witness within them.

For some of us, as it was for Boethius, the way to be a Christian witness will be political activity of one kind or another. We shouldn’t let scares about “dominionism”, as if there is a real danger that anyone will have enough power to impose Christian morality by force, distract us from our urgent calling to rescue our world from the threatening chaos. Do we want our world to remain under the “Domination System” of the evil one, as expounded by Walter Wink and today by Kurt Willems? Do we really think that is better for our world than it being under the dominion of God?

As Kurt writes, our Christian task is not to join the occupiers, nor to demonise them, nor to flee from them:

Only when we see our oppressors as gifts, as objects of love in spite of their un-love, will we be able to become the kind of just peacemakers that the way of Jesus invites us.  Our task as followers of Jesus, when we understand the dynamics at work in the Domination System, is to humanize our oppressor and in turn become more fully human ourselves. …

… the people of God have a gift to offer the world – the gift of the “third way” between inaction and violence.  The way of Jesus exposes the dehumanizing systems of the world, while seeking to raise the humanity of all parties involved in any conflict – even one dealing with economics.